Function vs. Expression for Freshman

I played a fun little trick on my Freshman movement class this week. My first class of the Spring semester is on the theme of function/expression. I spend a lot of time in their first semester in the Expressive world- working on their imagination, ability to following impulses, and play. In the second semester I teach more functional/technical skills – how to play physical actions, breaking movement habits, and others. So I start the year off by observing the relationship between Function and Expression, so they grasp that even though the class focuses on one skill at a time the end goal is to create work that draws on the seamless interchange between the two – from function to expression, from visceral to technical, from technical back to expressive again.

Here’s what I had them do: I split the class in two. Group A waited in the hallway. I asked Group B to come up with a short physical functional phrase ex: pack up your backpack, put your shoes and coat on – just do the task, nothing more. I asked Group A in the hallway to observe someone from Group B, and to write down what expressive story was being told. Group B did their functional actions, and Group A divined the expressive story within.

Then I asked Group A to come up with a short physical phrase that had a specific given circumstances and expressive quality. I asked Group B to observe functionally what was happening while they were working.

Then we shared the observations. Group B was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find all of the expressive goodies that Group A projected onto their purely functional work. Group A was taken aback at the precise and specific observations of their work action to action, moment to moment.

This little exercise created a great jumping off point to discuss the relationship between Function and Expression, and also gave me a great platform to introduce the tone of this semester. It’s also a great way to demonstrate to an actor how little control they have over how they are perceived. Young actor’s are obsessed with controlling how the audience sees the story, and one of the best lessons they can learn as early as possible is to release the need to control how the audience views them and their story. I think this little activity is quite eye opening, and I’m hoping that some of them will internalize that lesson and work without attempting to control impressions.

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